With the abundance of timber species available, choosing a material can come down to aesthetics, usability, and what makers prefer. Kate Milton spoke to several makers in the Handkrafted community about which timbers they like to use.
You may think that a piece of bespoke timber furniture is just a piece of wood, but there are many different types of timber out there, and each has unique characteristics and qualities. This means that different wood types are suited to different uses so how do you know which one is right for your project?
Walnut is a favourite material among makers, with one reason being its versatility.
“The best thing is that there is nothing it cannot be used for,” says Tim Noone
Originating in North America, Walnut has several common names, among them black walnut and American walnut. The timber ranges in colour from light to dark brown, with the sapwood being a creamy white. Thanks to its versatility and classic beauty, many makers and buyers favour this beautiful wood.
Nathan Day of Nathan Day Design likes working with walnut because it has many great characteristics.
“It’s one of the classic furniture timbers of the world and for good reason. It has a rich, dark colour and a distinctive grain pattern. It machines well and polishes beautifully. It also has the added bonus of a high tannin content, which makes it perfect for ebonising.”
“If it smelt like oak, it would be the perfect timber,” says Day.
As Maeker Studio’s Spencer Parks explains: “It is the perfect timber to machine, to plane, to sand, to steam bend, to oil, to lacquer, to lift, to touch, to look at, to cuddle… dare I go on?”
American White Oak
Another timber popular for its versatility, American white oak, as the name suggests, hails from North America and tends to span a pale to mid-brown colour range, although the sapwood is quite pale.
Jason Stancombe of Relm says American white oak is one of their most used materials, and its unique look is one of its selling points.
“American white oak is a favourite timber of Relm, and is used quite extensively through the workshop. I love the amazing grain and figure it consistently provides”, says Stancombe.
“For me, it finishes well, and provides a point of difference that my customers love,” he says.
While it does present challenges with its tendency to shrink, experienced makers can accommodate this characteristic and create a wide range of standout products.
“Yet another reason why I love American white oak – its versatility. It’s durable and accepts a wide variety of finishes, making it my go to choice for anything indoors,” says Cameron Hird from makimaki Australia
“I have used it for dining tables, beds, stools and even a ping pong table!”
An Australian native found in the south east, Silvertop Ash is resistant to fire, making it a popular choice for home construction. Its unique aesthetic, however, means it’s perfect for clients looking for individual custom pieces.
“Silvertop Ash has a different look to most other Australian hardwoods I work with, which have dark feature and grain patterns,” says Jake Auld of Auld Design.
“Silvertop can have incredible silvery tone features, which work well with light and white spaces,” he explains.
This home grown timber can be used for a range of applications.
“I’ve been using it for tables but also in bathroom vanities and find the lightness works really well on vertical surfaces, such as cabinet doors and drawer fronts,” says Auld.
Western Australian Sheoak
Western Australian Sheoak heartwood grows in a beautiful red brown colour, while the sapling is pale yellow.
The Australian native is preferred by a number of makers, including Peter Walker of Peter Walker Furniture.
“It’s generally a clean timber which is easy to work with (both machine and hand tools) and when polished, the grain colour and pattern of the medullary rays create a stunning effect,” he says.
In the past, Western Australian Sheoak has been popular in construction and flooring. However, it is becoming more difficult to source, and as such is becoming a desirable choice for smaller projects.
“Due to its increasing scarcity, it’s best for smaller pieces of furniture which will become heirloom pieces for future generations to enjoy,” says Walker.
But not all makers are using traditional timbers. Zev Bianchi of Bcompact Design is one of these.
“Bamboo ply board is my organic material of choice for the past seven years for a number of really solid and era specific reasons”, says Bianchi.
“There are many different combinations of the man-made, natural material that would satisfy even the most die hard wood aficionado’s.”
By Kate Milton
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